A federal waiver that relaxed rules for industries during the pandemic expired this week. Advocacy groups say it gave companies free rein to pollute without penalty, and avoid other safety measures. But the Environmental Protection Agency disputes that.
The EPA has issued waivers in the past for companies in certain situations, like in Hurricane Katrina for example. They allow more flexibility to keep operations going and are usually limited geographically. But a nationwide waiver was issued in March when the pandemic hit.
Oil and gas were among the industries asking for relief because of concerns over worker shortages, social distancing, and other restrictions. In some cases, in-person inspections were halted and monitoring was reduced.
Wake Forest Professor Stan Meiberg is a former acting deputy administrator with the EPA.
“There may have been releases of which we may never be aware and the extent of that isn't clear,” says Meiburg. “The EPA said in its statement to be absolutely fair that they were not sanctioning violations of emissions or affluent limits, that they weren't covered by this particular waiver, but if you don't monitor, how do you know.“
In North Carolina, The Department of Environmental Quality also scaled back testing because of the coronavirus. It approved a request from Chemours Co. in March to pause sampling of residential wells for PFAS because it would require entering elderly residents' homes.
The EPA says it will review exemption claims to see if they were needed and will continue pursuing those who did not act responsibly under the circumstances.
The COVID-19 waiver ended on August 31.
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